Getting some, Losing some

I’ve made a lot of goals since last year. I attained some, but not all of them succeeded. I wanted to write this post as a reflection to what worked and what didn’t for future reference.

What didn’t work:

Starting a Club

Going into freshman year, I had this starry eyed vision that college was a place where passionate people worked together to change the world. I knew it wasn’t true, but I wanted to believe it. The premise of the club was a place where people with different majors could come together to support each other and even collaborate on interdisciplinary projects. The common thread that would unite us all is that we all want to change the world. I was to start this club with one of my friends, Heather, who I met in my orientation group. We met every week on Sunday for an hour talking about the club, planning the details, found an adviser, and we even went as far as to submitting a club application. When the club committee reviewed us, they denied us and told us to come back. We were disappointed and discouraged as we put in a lot of time and effort. When sophomore year rolled around, we stopped meeting and the club never came into fruition.

Learning Solidworks

I’ve always found it difficult to teach myself new things. A few posts back, I made it a goal of mine to learn Solidworks, a CAD program used for design and engineering. Once school started in January, I struggled to find time and eventually school, applying for jobs, and leading a spring break program consumed me. Granted, all of those things that consumed me worked out! And I’m glad they did. But I suppose, it is necessary to be realistic in goal-setting.

Reading Feynman

One of the things I am most uncomfortable with is breezing by school without learning. Last summer, I read this book called “Surely you must be joking, Mr. Feynman!”. It chronicled the wild and funny journeys of a Nobel laureate in physics. Dr. Feynman wasn’t your ordinary scientist in a lab coat running experiments all day. He was a man who played bongo drums, had an art exhibit, frequented a nude coffee shop, cracked safes, and was an especially great communicator. What stood out to me was the clarity in his understanding of physical concepts. I just didn’t seem to have that. I had taken Introductory Physics classes and a few upper level ones as well, but my scientific intuition was lacking in all regards. If you asked me to explain a physical phenomenon, I couldn’t because I didn’t understand the physics well enough. What made this situation worse was that I was able to get good grades. How can attaining the grades and not learning be justified?

And so I decided to pivot and made it a goal of mine to read a bit of Feynman’s lectures every night during 2nd semester of Sophomore year to a get a better grasp of physics. The same tri-confluence of events took over and this goal fell into the background. But the thing about goals is that they originate from a genuine place of concern or need. I wanted to become better at physics and the desire never left even if other priorities took over. Sophomore year has ended and I am nearing the completion of my physics degree. I can’t say I am strong at physics yet, but I can say I am becoming more familiar and comfortable with concepts.

Incorporating Design Thinking

In January this year, I attended a 2-day workshop on Design Thinking at the Stanford d. School. I fell in love with their style of thinking and their attitude and approach toward challenges. One of their departing advices was that the people that succeed are those that start applying what they learned within a week. Within a week, I was back at college, but who would be crazy enough to join me? I didn’t know anyone who would be willing to listen to me for a couple hours where I would explain how design thinking works, nor did I know anyone who was seriously interested in starting side-projects related to intermediate technology, human-centered design, and design thinking. That was the excuse I told myself and then made it one of my goals to somehow incorporate design thinking during my academic school year, but it never came to fruition on the scale I had wanted. But I anticipate that this desire to apply what I had learned will remain with me until an opportunity presents itself. I don’t know when and where, but not everything has to be planned right? But when it does come, I must be ready to jump on the feeling, overcome the fear of being uncomfortable in confidence and action. That is something I struggle with.

Math tutor and IPC Leader

I also applied to be a math tutor and an IPC leader, an orientation leader for international Japanese students. Sadly, I was rejected from both. I love math, especially Multivariable Calculus, and really wanted to help other students realize that math is not so bad after all. Afterall, I was that student getting C’s and B’s in all my math courses in high school. But hiring was not based on anything but one professor’s familiarity with you and I never had him as my professor. And rejection from IPC leader was also quite devastating. My friend, Susumu, who was a Japanese exchange student my freshman year, encouraged me to apply. I did, but I’m not quite sure what happened. I tried to stay true to myself the whole time, but perhaps I just wasn’t what they were looking for.

What worked?

I make goals, sometimes too many. It is a problem that I have and I think it is indicative of all the desires and ideas I have for the future. But we only have so many hours in a day and it’s interesting to see what sticks, what your priorities are.

The MEGAPlan

I wrote this long post on my MEGAPlan to get a job this summer. I had two paths: Path A which was an international opportunity in intermediate technology and Path B which was domestic science research. What ended up happening was a combination of Path A and B, an international opportunity in research. It is absolutely crazy that I’m in Japan right now. I had many doubts that my MEGAPlan would work, but it did. My heart lies in developing technologies to help and empower people so my natural inclination to research is that it is a deviation off the path I truly want to travel. But I think what is actually happening here is that I have two conflicting desires or goals. One of the goals that I made before accepting last summer’s research job was that I wanted to become insanely good at one thing: physics. I’ve always struggled with sticking to one thing and the desire to go to a developing country and have an intermediate technology internship is part of the myriad of conflicting desires I have. But who knew I would end up in a flexible electronics laboratory? Here, I am learning circuit design, transistor fabrication, and it is an immense opportunity to learn just what electronics are and how they work. I had wanted to learn this knowledge for the longest time, but didn’t know where and how. Life seems to present many paths and the path you end up with is sometimes the path you wanted all along.

That brings me to this quote that I saw on the back of a person while walking in a subway station in Osaka: “Travel not to find yourself, but to remember who you’ve been all along.” And I think this quote is incredibly true, not just with travel, but with almost everything we do in life. I feel like every moment, we are working towards becoming more of ourselves. We may go places such as college to “find” him, they, or her, but the truth is, is that ourselves is right here. We need to look inward, blocking out all the distractions and people’s expectations of you. I often refer back to my childhood and it was during those times that I felt most me. And it’s funny that nowadays, I strive to keep that purity and allow it to shape the person I am today.

TaB Leader

Although I got rejected from being a math tutor and IPC leader, I did get the opportunity to become a Take a Break (TaB) leader. TaB is a social justice oriented alternative spring break program. I joined this program last year as a participant and this year, I was one of the co-facilitators of a trip. My trip went to Seattle, Washington where we immersed ourselves in the issue of Youth Homelessness. We stayed there a week, shedding our privilege and attaining new lenses to see the world. Designing the curriculum and hosting reflections and discussions was quite challenging and time consuming. We had 14 wonderful participants and it was a privilege to learn alongside all of them.

One major thought block that arose out of this trip was if there was an intersection between social justice and engineering. I knew there was, but what does that intersection mean to me personally? My heart lies in both these areas, but how would I merge the two? That’s a question I am still answering and only hope to discover more as life continues on this strange and meandering path. My experience as a TaB leader has served as a stepping stone into another opportunity. In the upcoming fall semester, I will be a SLS (Service, Leadership, and Sustainability) leader, a pre-orientation program for incoming freshman at Willamette. I am excited for what that may hold.

Academic Rigor

This past semester was hard. I had less time to pleasure read. When I wasn’t working on schoolwork, I was working on applications. When I wasn’t working on applications, I was doing TaB. And when I wasn’t doing TaB, I would lie on a couch somewhere and stare into space. Many moments, I wanted to give up in certain subjects such as Complex Variables or Quantum Mechanics, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t let my professor down and if I wasn’t grinded to the bone, I knew I wasn’t working to my full potential. But I was grinded to powder. I had to make compromises in terms of letting loose of fully understanding certain subjects.

Now did I grow? Was such a packed schedule worth it? Looking back, I grew a lot. I loved the classes I took. My favorite class ended up being Western Civilization and Sustainability. I spent hours writing essays for that class and reading the copious amounts of readings. I challenged myself to speak out loud and started to develop my own thoughts. And most of all, I developed a strong interest in sustainability. I would say it was worth it but I wouldn’t necessarily do it again as I almost burned out.

Now and Outlook

These are my thoughts as of now for these matters. I haven’t been updating this blog as much. Instead, I have been keeping another online journal for my summer Japan program, Nakatani RIES 2016, where I mainly write thoughts on cultural differences and research progress viewable here.

There are many things I need to work on and many things to get to including: writing a post about intermediate technology based on the books I’ve read, reading more books on sustainability, and challenging myself to continuously push myself each and every day. The last one, I struggle with but I must put in my best.